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Orange County officials call on community for help to defend against recent COVID-19 surge

A kindergartner is greeted at a pre-screen station at Top of the World Elementary in October 2020.
A kindergartner is greeted at a pre-screen station as elementary students return for in-person learning at Top of the World Elementary in October 2020. With most students returning to the classroom to begin the new school year, county health officials are hoping for compliance as it relates to wearing a mask on campus.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Following a recent rise in the number of COVID-19 infections, Orange County officials are doubling down on their efforts to educate the community on best practices in the fight against the virus.

Dr. Clayton Chau, the director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, made another plea Tuesday to residents to get vaccinated if they have not done so and to do so with haste.

“My message for our fellow Americans is we are privileged,” Chau said. “We live in a society where we have access and we have excess of vaccines, and we have to throw away vaccines that are expired. People in other countries would love to have that, would die to have that, so for the sake of the wellbeing of our country … please don’t defy it. Get real information. Don’t listen to misinformation about the vaccine.”

Chau spent roughly an hour Tuesday providing a COVID-19 update for the county, answering questions first from Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley and then from reporters.

He described the Delta variant as more virulent than earlier variants of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

“We noticed that folks who are contracted with the Delta variant, those who are unvaccinated, we notice they quickly get into the hospital, their condition is more severe, hence more risk for them to end up in the ICU than the previous variants.”

The county currently has available 22.2% of its adult ICU beds that can be staffed. Among the current patients, Chau indicated that 27.5% are hospitalized in intensive care because of the virus.

With most students returning to the classroom to begin the new school year, county health officials are hoping for compliance as it relates to wearing a mask on campus.

“That’s the nature of who kids are,” Chau said. “They want to hug their friends. They want to play with their friends. They touch each other and what have you, so I think the best thing that a school could do is having the conversation around masks, and wash their hands frequently, as normalizing it as possible.”

With respect to mask wearing at schools, Foley noted that it is important to set an example, saying, “I think if the adults model, then the children will follow.”

Of the county residents eligible to receive the vaccine, 75.4% have taken at least one dose, while 67.1% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated, Chau said. Those numbers are up from last week’s numbers, which showed 73% of the O.C. population had received their first dose and 65% were fully vaccinated.

People who are at least 12 years old are currently eligible to receive the vaccine, but Pfizer and Moderna have expanded their clinical trials for children between the ages of 5 to 11.

The county on Tuesday reported three deaths due to COVID-19, bringing the countywide death toll due to the pandemic to 5,161. There were also 668 infections reported to take the cumulative total of coronavirus cases in the county to 276,632.

Hospitalizations climbed to 549 in the county, with 126 of those patients being treated in intensive care units.

While county health officials believe the surge in cases may have stabilized, past data suggests that the peak in hospitalizations from the most recent wave has yet to come.

“The hope is that we don’t mirror what happened in the winter, and hopefully the vaccinations will dampen the peak of the hospitalizations,” Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, deputy health officer for the Orange County Health Care Agency, said. “That’s the goal, but again, the hospitalizations will always delay about anywhere from two weeks to three weeks from the time that our case rates peak.”

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